“This year I do not want the dark to leave me. I need its wrap of silent stillness, its cloak of long-lasting embrace. Let the dawns come late, let the sunsets arrive early, let the evenings extend themselves while I lean into the abyss of my being,” Joyce Rupp, Winter’s Cloak
IN summer, we learn to live again. In winter, we learn about ourselves. And the presence of a wild snake on one’s back deck is, arguably, one of life’s great teachers. I used to be scared of snakes, having grown up in country Queensland where scorching summers were punctuated by frequent snake sightings. Red Belly Blacks and King Browns were the order of the day out there, the type of rebellious reptiles that could easily kill a small child. And so I learned to fear those slithering serpents of my youth. But several years ago, when I first spotted a carpet snake on my back deck, I decided to finally face my fear. On the one hand, this was made much easier by the fact it’s a harmless common Eastern Australian carpet python. On the other hand, a snake is still a snake.
Anastasia arrived first, who departed only to be replaced by Sylvia, who grew from a one-metre juvenile in the first year, into a three-metre monster by her third. Too fat to fit back into the ceiling cavity, she departed, only to be replaced by Saskia, who arrived about a year ago. Saskia, like Sylvia, was also slim, but with a ready diet of bush rats and possums right out the back, she too has grown. And now she’s possibly the fattest snake I’ve ever seen. My anaconda girl also measures about three metres long, but sports the beer belly of a Brisbane bogan. Lay off the possums, I want to advise, particularly given I gain great comfort from their roaring thunder along my timber roof late at night. To me, that’s the soundtrack to living in Brisbane, and I love it.
So, what have I learned from my snake this winter? The first lesson is that it’s important to slow down. While my snake is still surprisingly active, even in winter, she moves at a slower pace. She basks on the back deck in the winter sunshine, that I, too crave. Learn to love the softer light, she seems to whisper to me. Take the time to laze. Stretch. Sleep. We need these seasons to rejuvenate. Reflect. Retreat inwards. For in a place like Brisbane, where the summers are long and lusty, it’s too easy to keep running. And run out of steam.
My sassy Saskia has also taught me while it’s important to eat, don’t eat too much. Fuelled by her latest possum catch, and a ridiculously distended belly, she tried and failed many times to return to her ceiling cavity the other afternoon as the sun signalled its early afternoon departure. She crawled and wiggled and pretty much looked like I do every winter when it comes to trying on that first pair of jeans. Eventually, she gave up. And whether she will return is anyone’s guess. I’ve learned to grow OK with that too.
She’s taught me to shed my skin a little. Be vulnerable. And she’s taught me to face my fears. In an ideal world, there would be no wild snakes on my back deck. But history has taught me that not long after one has departed, another one arrives. They are territorial like that. And so, I must embrace this paradigm. Just as winter follows autumn, the seasons will keep on changing. I used to hate winter too. The short days, the cold mornings, being constrained by too many clothes. By nature I’m a summer frock girl who loves being in the water. Those beautiful balmy evenings, bare feet and ice-cold beer. But I’m slowly learning that life is also about embracing the shadow side. Not only in nature, but in myself and others. Instead of rejecting the things I dislike about myself, learning to acknowledge them as a part of a greater sum.
I’m back on the yoga mat this winter, a nourishing alternative when the water is too cold in which to swim, and last week we celebrated the winter solstice in the southern hemisphere. The days are starting to grow longer and pretty soon, they will grow warmer again. But for now, I’m going to relish the words of Joyce Rupp: “Let me lie in the cave of my soul, for too much light blinds me, steals the source of revelation. Let me seek solace in the empty places of winter’s passage, those vast dark nights that never fail to shelter me.” Wherever you are in the world, whatever the season of your soul, I hope you find solace too.
Destination: “Batchelor” Northern Territory. Population: No eligible blokes.
A FRAGRANT frangipani guard of honour framing the road from the airport announces my arrival into Darwin city. I’m driving an automatic hire car and I must be the only person on the entire planet who can’t handle an automatic, my feet fumbling every few metres for the clutch. So poor am I at mastering this skill, that I realise I am actually driving the car in neutral. That explains the odd looks from the people outside the vehicle and the strange sounds from inside. In retrospect, it’s not a bad thing to arrive in a new city in neutral. No expectations. And Darwin is my last Australian capital city to conquer.
Yes, 30 years of travelling the globe and I am possibly the only Australian who hasn’t been to Darwin. In human terms, I am the last cab to Darwin, so to speak. But I’ve heard all the stories. About the croc attacks and bum cracks. Those Top End “terrors” (I’m talking about the blokes here), apparently even more daring than those in my hometown of Brisbane. I’ve seen NT Cops on television and I’m an avid follower of the Northern Territory News’ front-page headlines such as “A croc ate my cock” (you should be so lucky, mate) and frankly, I can’t wait to see what this final frontier is all about. A female friend finds out I’m going to Darwin and assures me there’s a “mansoon” happening up here. Yes, the ratio of men to women is apparently 13:1. The very same time last year I was in Mount Isa where the bloke/sheila ratio is 7:1. Things are improving. According to another friend, the odds are good but the goods are odd.
While I expect to meet plenty of men, what I don’t expect is to find a city that is thriving as much as those frangipani trees. I walk down the Smith Street Mall on a glorious winter day, past the posh Paspaley Pearl store with its swanky shell handles. A few doors down, di CROCO Boutique is selling handbags made from NT crocs for around $3000. I spy some $20 key rings more in my price range. All the beautiful people are sipping skinny chai lattes in the Star Village courtyard, home to local designers.
Down the Mall I wander, stumbling across an old black caravan. There’s a pretty girl inside with a killer smile and I ask to take her photo. She’s selling tickets to the Darwin Festival in August. She points out a plaque on the caravan. Turns out this van is called Tracy, and it’s the original van used to house one of the 25,000 people rendered homeless when Cyclone Tracy destroyed the city on Christmas Eve 1974. It is at this exact point I fall in love with this city. I love a destination with a story and soul and Darwin has both in spades surviving not only the Japanese bombing in 1942, but Tracy too.
Around the corner, I bump into the old Country Women’s Association building. Fair enough, I think to myself, there’s a CWA here. But as I step closer I discover it’s now an eco café serving the kinds of things our grandmothers had never heard of. Yes, there’s acai bowls and skinny lattes where once there was crochet and black tea. On this particular afternoon I have time, and I let the gentle breeze off Darwin Harbour blow me in whatever direction it chooses. I find myself in Austin Lane, just off of Smith Street, where I discover graffiti art galore. Little do I realise that in a few days I’ll be back here, taking a cooking class in Little Miss Korea, a converted loading bay at the back of the old Woolworths complex. Korean chef Chung Jae Lee, who was born on the floor of his mother’s Seoul restaurant kitchen, will teach me how to make a seafood pancake. And God, will we laugh.
But before I cook with Chung, I’ll head to the Wave Lagoon where I’ll grab a boogie board and join a bunch of excited kids in Darwin’s answer to the ocean. And it’s pumping. Queensland board riders hate this sort of choppy onshore surf, but on this divine Darwin day I can’t think of anything more swell.
Days later I’m swimming at Litchfield National Park, spending the day wading from waterhole to waterhole. It’s on this journey we pass through that town called Batchelor. While the spelling is slightly skewiff, the sentiment is spot on. There’s even a Batchelor Museum which forces my face into a wry smile. Yes, single blokes are so rare in Australia, they are now building shrines to them. Of course, this museum is about something entirely different, but it keeps me amused all the way back into Darwin.
I’m in Larrakia country, the birthplace of Australian singer Jessica Mauboy and actress Miranda Tapsell, who I had the great pleasure of interviewing before I came to Darwin. Tapsell was a pure delight and so in love with Darwin it was infectious. I adore how at this time of the year, when the wet season finally concedes to the dry, Aborigines describe the weather as “knock-em down storms” and “clean em-up country”. Everything is fresh. And with it comes an air of possibility. Of Dreamtime and daydreams.
It’s my last night in Darwin and I head out to Mindil Beach for the sunset markets. No one told me how much Darwinians love a sunset and I watch in utter fascination as hundreds of locals and tourists flock to the cool sand at this magic hour to watch the sun collapse into the ocean. The crowd applauds in a gesture which makes me love this city even more. What is this mystical place where hundreds gather to celebrate Mother Nature at her finest? I head to the Deckchair Cinema where the cool breeze blows off the harbour and sit under the stars, slouched in a canvas chair. It’s one of the most romantic settings in Australia and I am all alone, but I am not lonely. For I am sitting in a city which has had everything thrown at it and not only keeps bouncing back, but flourishing. And that feeling, that delicious Darwin magic, is contagious.
The Global Goddess travelled to Darwin as a guest of Tourism Northern Territory – http://www.travelnt.com
SINCE starting to seriously dabble in Instagram during the past year, I’ve noticed a trend emerging about what catches the eye of followers and potentially attracts a new audience.
Here’s my top 10, in no particular order.
Whether it’s this mound of spices I stumbled across at a breakfast buffet in a Bangkok hotel or this bike rack at my local university swimming pool, interesting shapes are always eye-catching.
2. People with a sense of place
Photos of people in general, and selfies particularly, have little traction on Instagram, but where people present a sense of place, it’s a whole different story. This surfer on the beach in Hawaii and this woman in Vietnam, both instantly tell a story.
3. The colour red
A photographer’s dream colour, you can hardly go wrong red. It’s bright, it’s catchy and it doesn’t really matter what it is you are photographing, as long as it’s red, it’s a winner.
Everyone loves a sunset. Surprisingly, fewer people love a sunrise. Post a photo of a sunset, like this one I captured recently in Fiji (no filter required) and watch your numbers soar.
5. Flowers and trees
There’s more nature lovers out there than you realise. People loved this kangaroo paw I published around Australia Day, and they went wild when I discovered the bark of this melaleuca tree in Tropical North Queensland recently.
6. Fun phrases
Every now and then, if you stumble across a quirky sign of a funny phrase, give it a go. This particularly works if it’s got something to do with coffee.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I’m not a huge fan of food shots, but if you do happen across something interesting, then sure, post it. Just not the sandwich you had for lunch. Unless you invented the sandwich. Then go for your life.
8. Street Art
This has been my biggest revelation in the past year, both about myself and my audience. Turns out I am quite the street art aficionado and I have found myself on the lookout on every street corner for something new to shoot. My followers adore art.
Similar to street art, if you can present something in an abstract way, people tend to love it. I took this photo of a Buddhist tea ceremony in Brisbane a few months ago. It’s essentially a metonym – where you don’t need to shoot the entire frame to tell a story.
Whatever the weather, people love water. Whether it’s the ocean or a pool, there’s something alluring and aspirational about a body of water.
What are your Instagram tips? Follow me on Instragram @aglobalgoddess